Despite a close shave with the bubble, Cal baseball did earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The committee did them no favors, giving them a #3 seed with nationally seeded Rice. The odds of advancement were slim.
Those odds got slimmer after the Bears fell behind early and could not come back against Baylor, losing 6-4. Coming out of the losers bracket is nearly impossible; besides the Houston Regional, no team dropped their opener and eventually advanced. Falling behind 4-0 to Alcorn State made the odds even longer against the Bears.
But as they had done all year, Cal found a way. Behind the arm of Justin Jones and some powerful hitting, the Bears ended the Braves season 10-6. Against even more improbable odds, the Bears fell behind host Rice 3-2 heading into the final third of the game. But they made yet another amazing come from behind victory, as Austin Booker tied it up and some horrendous defensive mishaps from the Owls lifted Cal to a 6-3 win. It was time for a rematch with the team that had led them to the brink of elimination.
Game 1 of the duel was all Cal, as Kyle Porter delivered a gem and Chad Bunting led the offense attack with a dinger in an easy 8-0 victory. Game 2 was anything but easy.
The game recap does it far more justice, but the story was basically this; the Bears fell behind 7-1, and didn’t give up. They cut the deficit to 8-5 going into the bottom of the ninth. They loaded the bases with the score 8-7. Devon Rodriguez stepped to the plate. He singled, to put the team in the Super Regionals. Every single obstacle that could have been placed in the way of the Bears was toppled, and now they could start over without facing elimination every time they stepped on the field. (Although it did seem that the team played better during elimination games; the team started red hot when the program was cut, and when in the loser’s bracket they were nearly unstoppable)
The Bears lucked into a Super Regional match-up with Dallas Baptist, a good team but certainly not a juggernaut. In their two games, the Bears outscored the Patriots 13-2 and never trailed. The only downside to their terrific play was an injury to Justin Jones that knocked him out for the rest of the season. It was a historic achievement, as the team was headed to Omaha for the first time since 1992.
Cal did get a victory out of the College World Series, but in the end #1 Virginia proved to be too much for the Golden Bears. The first game was a hard fought pitching duel, Cavs winning 4-1, but Virginia blew out Cal to end their season 8-1. In between, Cal won their first game in Omaha since 1980, dominating Texas A&M 7-3. In a way, the results didn’t matter; the College World Series was just a celebration of what these young men had accomplished, and an opportunity to have some more fun together before some of them had to depart.
Cal’s regular season had to be classified as somewhat of a disappointment, but the postseason turned it into a huge success. Their postseason was inspiring, amazing, and a great story for the nation to see the work the players put in and the commitment they had to the program. The best part of this? We’ll get to see the Bears play again, next year. That’s the best story of all. Go Bears!